Urban Governance and its Discontents: Oxford Future of Cities Debate, 2016: Panel 4 Representing the City: Can art projects re-figure and challenge urban futures?

"The notion of governance has emerged in the 1990s as both an analytical and an operational framework under which to interrogate and intervene on the relation between state organizations, civil society, and local stake-holders. Composed by technical, political, institutional, and cultural dimensions, governance—especially in its aspirational declension of “good governance”—has been coupled with development. In this formulation it has been adopted by international organizations, particularly the United Nations and the World Bank, to conceptualize the “manner in which power is exercised in the management of county´s economic and social resources for development.” (WORLD BANK 1992: 1).

In 1999 UN HABITAT, expanding the concept to cities and including in it both administrations and a variety of actors involved in urban decision-making, launched the Global Campaign on Urban Governance. Urban governance, therefore, became an instant buzzword to describe “[...] the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, plan and manage the common affairs of the city. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action can be taken.”(UN HABITAT 2002: 14)

While in this formulation urban governance has been presented as synonymous to more participative administration, significant critiques have been raised both to specific instances of implementation and to the general framework. As a number of political and urban theorists have argued, governance is always haunted by its own duality: one a side a potential progressive project of more efficient and inclusive administration, on the other a potentially hegemonic and disciplinary project of increased legibility and control over the city.

As more and more people across the globe moves into urban environments, the question of what urban governance does, how it succeeds and fails, and how it can be re-organized to meet the challenges of cities in the 21st century has acquired unprecedented relevance, both for academic explorations and for practical engagements. The Oxford Future of Cities Programme has been on the forefront of this analysis. During the last year we have run a series of activities aimed at investigating urban governance, its strengths, tensions, and contradictions. We created as space in which scholars, practitioners, and students can reflect on the value and significance of this framework as well as question its validity and political underpinnings.

The Oxford City Debates on Governance and its Discontents harness this existing research strength and develop it further by placing academics on the cutting edge of global urban scholarship face-to-face with well-established and recognized innovative practitioners (whether architects, activists, policy makers, or artists). In these dialogues practitioners and scholars will have to grapple with the intellectual and everyday implications of their interventions and theories on contemporary and future cities so to lay the groundwork for future visionary but grounded research and intervention strategies. "​ --
Oxford Cities Debates
  • Urban Governance and Its Discontents - Panel 4 - Representing the City